Some tips for Pagan visitors to North Cornwall
If you are coming to the Pagan Phoenix conference and staying in North Cornwall for a few days, here are some tips for local places you might like to visit.
(Please note this information was written before the Covid 19 pandemic. Please check access, admission times and prices before your visit).
When visiting holy wells, sacred sites etc please dress sensibly. It can be cold and wet in Cornwall in March (yes, really) and slippery underfoot, so waterproof clothes and boots (stout footwear, as my Dad would have put it) are recommended. It is also sensible not to visit some of the remoter places alone.
I have tried to get accurate information about opening times (where they apply) but bear in mind that in March most places will be operating on their winter schedule. I have also provided OS grid references which are old-fashioned but very useful when visiting isolated sites.
There are plenty of guidebooks and websites available, but for my money, the very best for the discerning Pagan visitor are the works of Cheryl Straffon, published under her Meyn Mamvro imprint. They combine Pagan elements, folklore, archaeology and history with very practical local knowledge. I used Cheryl’s Earth Mysteries Guide to Bodmin Moor and North Cornwall, Fentynyow Kernow – In Search of Cornwall’s Holy Wells and Pagan Cornwall – Land of the Goddess when compiling this information. The latter volume is illustrated by artist Monica Sjoo and is an absolute treasure. Some of these books may be out of print but they are well worth seeking out. www.meynmamvro.co.uk. Paul Broadhurst also wrote a beautiful book called Secret Shrines – in Search of the Old Holy Wells of Cornwall. Its long out of print, but can be obtained second hand.
St Nectan’s Glen: the waterfalls and pools of St Nectan’s Glen are beloved of Pagan visitors. Situated between Boscastle and Tintagel; there is a signposted parking place at Trethevy and the walk up the valley is beautiful. Admission to the falls costs £5.95 for adults and £4.94 concessions. Winter opening hours are 10-4, with last admissions at 3.30. PL34 OBG/ 01840 779538. http://www.st-nectansglen.co.uk/
Rocky Valley Labyrinths: Further down the same valley as St Nectan’s Glen, these two carved labyrinths can be found on the walls of a ruined mill by the stream. Park by the side of the road at Halgabron Mill and it’s a five-minute walk along a public footpath. Debate continues about the purpose and age of the labyrinths but it has been established they were made with metal tools.
Tintagel Castle: There have been big changes at Tintagel recently. English Heritage, who manage the site, have created a new footbridge to the island/ castle that provides step-free access. This has caused major controversy, with strong opinions for and against, but it has certainly made the site accessible to less mobile visitors. Merlin’s Cave, which runs right through the base of the island is spectacular and magical but not always easy to access, and take care on wet and slippery cliff paths. English Heritage have also added several sculptures on Arthurian themes to the site. I preferred the place without them but you pays your money (quite a lot in this instance) and you takes your choice as they say…
Opening times: etc: The new bridge has led to increased visitor numbers (I’m saying nothing…) and English Heritage have introduced timed tickets for visits to Tintagel castle which they strongly advise you purchase in advance as otherwise, they cannot guarantee tickets will be available.
Timed tickets can be booked at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk>visit>places>tintagel-castle Winter opening times are 10-4, Admission £13 adults; £7.80 concessions; family tickets available. Thankfully, you do not need a timed ticket to visit the beach, café etc.
The inscribed stone at Slaughterbridge (no it’s not King Arthur’s final resting place; the bloke buried there was called Latinus) OS SX1092 8568. This stone, dated to the late Romano-British period lies on the bank of the River Camel, a little to the north of Camelford. It’s a 5-10 minute stroll along the riverbank and in spring the path is garlanded with primroses and wood anemones. Local tradition dictates that Slaughterbridge is the site of the Battle of Camlann.
North Cornwall is replete with holy wells. They are beautiful, liminal places where you can enjoy quiet contemplation and perhaps commune with the spirit world. They are mostly dedicated to the old Celtic saints and identified with legends that reach back into the pre-Christian past. There are far too many to list here so I have provided a few highlights for you. Use the books listed above to find more.
St Clether Holy Well. This is a place of extraordinary peace and beauty. Walking along the side of the valley of the River Inny from St Clether Church, it feels as if the everyday world and normal time have been left far behind. The Guardian of this well has strong links with Paganism and your conference has previously raised money to repair the roof of the well chapel. The chapel altar is pre-Christian. OS: SX203 847. Park at St Clether Church and follow the signposted path through the churchyard and along the valley. It’s a fairly easy 10-minute walk but can be slippery in wet weather.
St Anne’s Well at Whitstone. This gem of a well is set back into the bank in the churchyard at Whitstone. There is a remarkable little carved stone head (Celtic probably) set into the wall of the well. Magic. OS: SW263 985.
St Swithin’s Well, Launcells (aka Grimscott). Just a few miles from Penstowe on the A3072; another lovely churchyard well.
Davidstow Holy Well OS: SX153 874. In a field behind Davidstow church, just off the A395. This well has a beautiful oaken door and a thorn tree which grows out of the side of the well.
Trethevy. There is a holy well close to the start of the walk from Trethevy up to St Nectan’s Glen. Sadly, it has become rather dilapidated in recent years.
Holywell Bay. This well is a little way outside the North Cornwall area, but it is spectacular and one of the great hidden sacred sites of Cornwall. Sometimes called Holywell Cave, it is situated in a sea cave under the southern side of Kelsey Head at Holywell Bay, near Newquay. It can only be reached when the tide is falling. Park at the National Trust car park at Holywell Bay and walk north to the far end of the beach. Its about three-quarters of a mile. The well is in one of a series of caves at the base of the cliffs at the end of the beach. It can be a bit difficult to find from the beach but you can identify it by the steps leading up into it. Inside are several pools and the wellspring. The water has left creamy calcareous deposits and the rocks are coloured red, green and blue. Words cannot do this place justice: the meeting place of earth and sea; a complete wonder.
BE careful: When visiting Holywell Bay, check tide times before you go and only visit when the tide is going out (or you could get cut off by the incoming tide). The steps up to the well cave and the cave itself are covered in seaweed and slippery. Take a torch in order to see the beautiful colours of the cave properly. You are advised not to visit Holywell Cave alone. The National Trust do a useful map/ leaflet for this site.
Also slightly further afield there are a number of stone rows, stone circles and standing stones on Bodmin Moor. The Earth Mysteries Guide (see above) lists there.
Over the border: heading north along the coast into Devon, Hartland Point has some spectacular geological formations and the remains of several shipwrecks. Hartland Church (a little way inland from the point) is worth a visit and the churchyard contains a holy well dedicated to St Nectan.
Enjoy your visit.